Unifying the Kosovo Factions: The Way Forward
Unifying the Kosovo Factions: The Way Forward
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
Report 58 / Europe & Central Asia

Unifying the Kosovo Factions: The Way Forward

The Kosovo peace talks, held at Rambouillet (France) under the auspices of the six-nation Contact Group, have been suspended until 15 March 1999 after a provisional agreement was reached on granting substantial autonomy for Kosovo.

The Kosovo peace talks, held at Rambouillet (France) under the auspices of the six-nation Contact Group, have been suspended until 15 March 1999 after a provisional agreement was reached on granting substantial autonomy for Kosovo. However, neither the Kosovo Albanians nor Serbian delegates have yet signed the draft peace accord, which calls for a NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, and in which the "final status" issue has been deliberately fudged. The immense complexities of the Kosovo question were dramatically illustrated at Rambouillet by the last-minute refusal of the Albanian delegation to sign the accord, due to pressure from a hard-line faction of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) which refused to attend the talks.

The chief opponent of the peace accord, as framed in Rambouillet, is Adem Demaci, the KLA's political representative until his resignation on 2nd March.[fn]In 1964 Demaci, known as the Albanian Mandela, was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for dissident activities. In a mock trial in 1976, he was sentenced to a further fifteen years on charges of forming the National Liberation Movement of Kosovo, the alleged goal of which was the unification of Kosovo with Albania. He served nearly twenty-eight years in prison until his release in 1990. The following year he was awarded the Sakarov Prize in Strasbourg.Hide Footnote  Demaci wanted the accord to call explicitly for a popular referendum at the end of three years, instead of its more vaguely-worded pledge to “determine a mechanism for a final settlement....on the basis of the will of the people and the opinions of the relevant authorities.” After listening to Demaci's arguments, a number of rebel commanders telephoned the chateau outside Paris, where the talks were being held, to voice objections to the deal. These calls appear to have particularly influenced Hashim Thaci, head of the ethnic Albanian delegation, who was sentenced in absentia to 22 years in prison for terrorist offensives by the Yugoslav courts. As a result, Thaci encouraged other delegates to oppose the accord and raised objections up to the final minutes of the negotiations. Thaci's actions took Western diplomats by surprise, as his comments earlier in the talks had led the diplomats to conclude that the KLA would accept the accord.[fn]Kosovo Daily News, 25 February 1999.Hide Footnote

Although the ethnic Albanians were severely criticised for not signing the accord at once And demanding a two-week period for consultations, Mr. Thaci  apparently had good reasons for demanding a delay. "What Thaci was in fact fearing in Rambouillet was that any hasty move might have inspired bloodshed among Albanians in Kosovo." Explained Dukagjin Gorani, an Albanian journalist attached to the Rambouillet talks. This was echoed by Commander Drini, who commands the rebels south of Pristina. "The best achievement of the Albanian delegation was that they went into Rambouillet separated and they came out united," he said in a press statement.[fn]The Independent, 3 March 1999.Hide Footnote

The profound differences between rival Kosovo Albanian political groups, especially between the KLA and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) led by Dr Ibrahim Rugova, were well known before the Rambouillet talks began. However, in order to get the KLA to the negotiating table, it was essential to broker some level of peace between the LDK and the KLA. Given the bitter divisions between the various Kosovar Albanian factions, the West continued to promote Rugova as the man to do business with. Nevertheless it was clear that no peace talks could convene without the presence of the KLA, since it was responsible for dictating the pace of events on the ground. Consequently, for several months before the Rambouillet talks began, international mediators tried unsuccessfully to bring together the divided Kosovar leaders in support of efforts to secure an autonomy deal for Kosovo. All attempts, however, to bring the KLA under the control of the LDK and Rugova failed.

Ethnic Albanian leaders may be united by the common goal of independence for Kosovo, but beyond that single outcome, they are bitterly divided by personal and ideological differences, petty rivalries and the desire for power. However, the bitter wrangling between factions within the KLA itself over acceptance of the draft peace accord took Western observers by surprise. Many Western diplomats were baffled by the intransigence of the rebels, whom they see as the main beneficiaries of international involvement in the crisis. Recently, there has been a growing power struggle between radical elements of the KLA, who refuse to compromise with either the Serbs or with the LDK, and relative moderates who appear ready to work together with pacifist rival groups around Rugova. In addition, there are also differences of approach to the entire Kosovo issue between the Socialist-led Government of Albania versus Albania’s right-wing opposition groups, led by the Democratic Party.

A year after the start of their open conflict with the Serbs, the KLA have transformed themselves from a motley band of armed villagers into a well disciplined military force, the command structure of which increasingly dictates events on the ground. As a result, KLA commanders have become increasingly arrogant and self-confident. They are also hostile to any agreement that would grant Kosovo autonomy from Belgrade without the certainty of independent status in the foreseeable future, or indeed to any peace deal that requires it to disarm. However, refusal to sign the proposed agreement introduces the real risk that the KLA may be left to its own devices to repel superior Serb forces as the international community loses patience with the ethnic Albanians’ plea for outside assistance. By refusing to sign the draft peace accord, the KLA also risks becoming increasingly isolated from the majority of Kosovo Albanians.

Over the past few months, the ideological disagreements and personal animosities, particularly between the moderate LDK leader Ibrahim Rugova and the KLA’s Adem Demaci, have also served to weaken the political voice of the Kosovo Albanians. As a result, international mediators have gone to considerable lengths to try to persuade rival ethnic Albanian groups to form a united negotiating team to participate in peace talks. It was not, however, until the involvement of the Albanian government at the beginning of this year that a breakthrough occurred and the KLA agreed to participate, along with other Kosovo Albanian political groups, in peace negotiations. In January, the Socialist-led coalition Albanian government of Premier Pandeli Majko invited a number of Kosovo Albanian politicians to Tirana in an effort to form a united negotiating team. A solution to the Kosovo crisis is of critical importance to Tirana for a number of reasons other than finally solving the emotive ‘Albanian National Question’.

Albania is still recovering from the violent uprising that swept the country in 1997 and damaged and destabilised its institutions, and is not keen to see further deterioration of the conflict in Kosovo. Tirana already finds it difficult to control the remote north-east of the country, where the KLA has established numerous bases. From there, it smuggles men and equipment into Kosovo, leading Belgrade to accuse Tirana of encouraging ‘terrorism’. The tension has fuelled rumours in Tirana about alleged plans in Belgrade for military intervention in northern Albania to wipe out KLA bases. Albania has also taken in thousands of Kosovar refugees who, according to government sources, are beginning to place a heavy burden on the national budget.[fn]Albania Daily News, 5 February 1999.Hide Footnote   Another concern for Tirana is the fact that foreign investors are extremely reluctant to invest in Albania while such acute regional instability, due largely to the Kosovo conflict, threatens to draw Albania into a wider regional war.

Brussels/Tirana, 12 March 1999

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue

Online Event to discuss Crisis Group's report "Relaunching the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue", in which we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

Thirteen years after Kosovo broke away from Serbia, the two countries remain mired in mutual non-recognition, with deleterious effects on both. The parties need to move past technicalities to tackle the main issues at stake: Pristina’s independence and Belgrade’s influence over Kosovo’s Serbian minority.

In this conversation, we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue (Online Event, 28th January 2021)

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